The 2023 Annual Exhibition at the RBSA

Review of Birmingham Art Circle Exhibition – November 2023

On Saturday 4 November 2023, I had the huge honour of selecting the winner of the President’s Trophy Award plus making a number of commendations. I was made very welcome and it was good to see so many artists and their friends and family there. As a Trustee and Honorary Curator of the RBSA, I am so pleased that the Birmingham Art Circle holds their premier annual exhibition at our gallery.

The quality of work is high and this is only to be expected given the history and heritage of the Art Circle and, of course, there is a significant crossover of membership with the RBSA.

Selecting the top prize and the commendations was not easy. I wasn’t part of a selection team, so it was always going to be a personal choice, but one, I hope, well-informed by my experience as a curator and my appreciation of a wide range of art styles and media.

I can’t mention every artist in the space available to me, but there were a number of works which really spoke to me as I walked round making the selection. The textile appliqued still life by Rachel David was charming; the colour palette and style reminded me a bit of William Scott. Clare Sherwen’s small portrait of her mum was a tender image filling the picture surface – her slight sideways glance was perfectly captured. Brian Fletcher’s three drawings of Welsh landscapes were masterly in their economy of line and energy and Glynis Wilson’s Chinese-style paintings and associated poems were managed to capture that difficult style perfectly. Finally I was impressed, as ever, with Mark Lippett’s graphite drawings which always capture the scene and ‘genius loci’.

I highly commended the work of four artists. I was looking for works that pushed boundaries yet were accessible and had a strong aesthetic. I believe Mary Flitcroft’s ceramics achieved this. Her small porcelain containers are so delicate and their thin walls, abstract colouring and splashes of gold leaf give them an ethereal quality. Kathryn Sawbridge manages to push the boundaries with her artwork created by joining up digital Polaroid images transferred onto paper; a delicate and time-consuming task where the resulting image has a surreal mysterious quality. Linda Nevill’s landscapes stick to a strict square format and very successfully merge abstraction with figuration. Her painting ‘Summer Meadow’ with its high horizon and dramatic colour palette breathed the height of the season. The final highly commended artist was Philip Singleton with a photograph of a woman walking in front a contemporary building in Marseille. The large-scale image of building’s intricate façade and monochrome colouring were perfectly set off by the small image of the woman walking in front of it and highlighted by the small splash of colour on her carrier bag.

I was pleased to award the President’s Trophy to James Ware. Scale is an important part of an artwork’s aesthetic  and James’s painting ‘Receding Tide’  was an impressive image of a Hebridean coastal scene using expressive mark making, a restricted but successful palette and a mix of thinly and more thickly applied oil paint. It is a joyful and immensely pleasing work.

So congratulations to everybody and I am looking forward to seeing next year’s exhibition.

Ed Isaacs RBSA – Hon Curator RBSA